The meme we’ve been hearing for years is that radical right-wing “hard liners” are hijacking the Republican party and forcing it to the right; however, an interesting new study argues that Democrats are moving more quickly to the left than Republicans are moving to the right.  It also indicates that the Democrats’ move leftward has had the unintended consequence of moving state legislatures to the right.

The study–conducted by social scientists from the University of Oregon, Princeton, and Georgetown–was funded by a grant from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth (John Podesta’s think tank) and focuses on income inequality and the redistributive goals of the current Democrat party.  The authors come to the conclusion that political polarization is the result of income inequality and that income inequality is the result of political polarization.

American Interest provides a helpful summary of the authors’ argument:

The study’s overall argument is that income inequality has increased political polarization at the state level since the 1990s. But the authors find that that this happens more by moving state Democratic parties to the left than by moving state Republican parties to the right. As the Democratic Party lost power at the state level over the past 15 years, it also effectively shed its moderate wing. Centrist Democrats have increasingly lost seats to Republicans, “resulting in a more liberal Democratic party” overall. The authors find that the ideological median of Republican legislators has shifted much less.

As the more liberal Democrat party loses its moderate-held state seats to Republicans, the political polarization that the authors claim both causes and is the cause of income equality results in more Republican state legislatures that will not pursue the redistribution that the authors seem to assume is the only way to address income inequality.  They write:

Our findings are consistent with a political reinforcement mechanism for the propagation of inequality|increases in income inequality move the entire legislature to the right, while at the same time increasing political polarization. This diminishes both the appetite and ability of state legislatures to engage in redistribution, which in turn further increases income inequality.

The underlying assumption that the only way to address income inequality is through redistribution (and other progressive notions such as “increasing the minimum wage, strengthening union bargaining power, or increasing redistribution through welfare”) seems to be at the root of the current political polarization.

This polarization, then, runs deeper and is more complicated than simply unhinged, fringe factions taking over both parties.  Both Democrat presidential candidate Jim Webb and Democrat Senator Joe Manchin have noted that the Democrat party has moved “too far left,” and while many conservatives feel that the Republican party has moved too far left, as well, both Democrats and Republican establishment claim the GOP has moved—is being pulled kicking and screaming—too far to the right.

CU Bolder released an interesting study about the perceived polarization among voters (as opposed to among politicians in one or both major parties) in which they conclude that American voters are not as polarized as they are led to believe by the two polarized political parties.  Watch:

According to an NBC poll, independents will soon outnumber Republicans and Democrats combined.  Voters are leaving both parties in droves . . . or feel that both parties have left them.  While there is clear political polarization between the two major political parties, perhaps the greater divide is between the parties and the people.


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